Supporting someone in anorexia recovery can feel like a lose-lose situation the majority of the time. More often than not, my supporters didn’t actually know WHAT to do; this led to the not-so-positive results that they actually didn’t intend for. In my experience of recovery, it usually looked something like this: my supporters giving me an endless amount of options or choices, specifically when it came to the food I was eating. When left with alternative options other than the food choice that was already agreed upon, I was left with an internal battle that is nearly impossible to explain unless you’ve experienced it yourself. That being said, I’ll use this blog entry to at least try.
The idea for this post is actually “inspired” by what happened this past week. Yes, the struggle is still sometimes real! My boyfriend and I were ordering in Saturday night. I went into this night craving a burger and fries. For whatever reason, or actually reasons I’m well-aware of, I became visibly very anxious. I was anxious about the meal we were a click away from pressing “ORDER” for a few reasons. The main one being: I hadn’t eaten out all week (whereas otherwise for the majority of my weeks, I eat out multiple times). The week leading up to our Saturday night ordering in was spent cooking my own meals, which all were extremely nutrient-dense. When I have a week of consistency with meals that were unintentionally ED-adherent, the ED-voice begins to make an appearance (and an extremely un-welcomed one).
Habit is EVERYTHING in eating disorder recovery, and in maintenance (at least for me). As I “reviewed” my past week, I felt instantly guilty if I decided to break habit, and get something that didn’t necessarily “fit” into the week I had created for myself. 1) I know this is irrational. I eat out consistently every other week of the year, why was this one different? 2) Balance allows for fluctuation, which again, is something I was well-aware of, and temporarily “forgot.”
I began to realize why this decision was so hard, and why the anxiety was so high. My boyfriend gave me an endless amount of options immediately as he saw my anxiety surfacing. He is of course not at fault for this whatsoever; the easiest thing for a supporter to do for us when we’re struggling is to give alternative options that are intended to ease the struggle. Ironically, it does the opposite.
- When I’m given choices, I begin to question my initial choice. I begin to question whether I REALLY need to have it, and consider the possibility that I can choose something else. I begin to feel guilty for the choice I wanted, the choice that the healthy side of me decided upon.
- When I’m given choices, it makes me more indecisive than I already am or might be. Making a decision of what to eat or where to eat is not as simple for someone who has an eating disordered past. There seems to be a requirement to consider what else could POSSIBLY be safer to eat, what else could POSSIBLY fit more into our ED rules, all while still feeling as though we’re challenging ourselves because we’re eating restaurant food. Is it really a challenge if the challenge itself fits into ED rules?
- When I’m given choices, I begin to feel like I would be “normal” if I just chose the salad instead. That it’s completely acceptable to not want the burger and to choose something “healthy.” Is it still healthy if the choice was made by my ED, and not me?
- When I’m given choices, it takes away my ability to decide based on food preference or appetite (which is something I lost for so many years of my life). Alternative options make me question what I actually have a taste for, or if taste preference matters at all.
Does this make any sense?
So, what can our supporters do in situations that we’re anxious about the food we’re about to order?
- Reframe what you’ve been saying.
Don’t say: “We can go somewhere else instead!”
Instead say: “I was excited about the (food) we planned to get tonight!”
This reiterates the point that the food choice was a decision WE made, not our ED.
- Stick to the decision and support your loved one through it. If they’re anxious about getting some sort of food, get the exact same thing with them. Sounds a little bit of a sacrifice, especially if you were hoping to get something entirely different. It’s one meal, and it’s a meal we’ll thank you for later.
- Ask your loved one if they’d like to be validated after eating. For me personally, a “good job!” makes me feel as though I did something that was perceived as difficult, which makes me feel like the food MUST have been “bad” for me. For others, a “good job” is reassuring and motivating. Your role as a supporter is just to ask.
Ps: I ordered the burger and fries.